Just two years removed from assisting Norm Roberts at St. John's, Glenn Braica is now coach of the year in Northeast Conference after leading St. Francis from 11th-place prediction to 4th in NEC standings. (Photo courtesy of WFAN)
Two years ago, I was fortunate to have latched on with St. Francis College as one of their play-by-play voices in an experience that has granted me some of the best memories of my young career. One of the highlights of this experience was familiarizing myself with the staff of each of the Terrier teams; and in the case of the men's basketball program, reintroducing myself to a face I had seen many times during my three prior years as a broadcaster.
An assistant to Norm Roberts while at my alma mater, Glenn Braica returned to Brooklyn after a six-year stint in the second chair on the bench at St. John's. Now in his second season at the helm of the Terriers, Braica has not changed. His defensive mindset and willingness to spread the ball among several qualified scoring options has made St. Francis one of the unique programs in the Northeast Conference; and after taking the Terriers to fourth place in the NEC after being predicted to finish eleventh in the field of twelve, the ultimate honor in his profession was bestowed upon him yesterday when Braica was named the winner of the NEC's Jim Phelan Coach of the Year award.
With the Terriers preparing to host Quinnipiac tomorrow night in the NEC tournament quarterfinals, I had the chance to catch up with Braica earlier today to gauge his thoughts on St. Francis' overall performance as well as tomorrow night's postseason contest, and the coach had this to say:
Jaden Daly: Congratulations on being named Coach of the Year. If you can, comment on the honor and what it means.
Glenn Braica: Thanks, Jaden. Well, it's a tremendous honor. Obviously, I feel there are other coaches in the league who deserve it just as much or more than me who had great seasons; but certainly, I'm honored to be selected among a great group of coaches. I think our league has a tremendous group of coaches; and again, I'm honored to just be part of the league, and to get this, I'm very happy about it.
JD: Going into the NEC tournament, you have the same record (15-14) that you had last year, but you're 12-6 in the league this year after losing Ricky Cadell and Akeem Bennett. What was the adjustment process this season from the beginning of the year to getting the No. 4 seed and a home game tomorrow night?
GB: Well, it was difficult losing Ricky and Akeem. They meant so much to our team last year. I'm happy to say they're both playing overseas and doing a good job with that, so we're real happy for them. It was difficult at the beginning of the year, you know; we had nine road games to start the season, Dre Calloway went down with an injury and he was our other starting perimeter guy from last year. We were kind of up in the air a little bit; but it's a testament to our guys' character, their work ethic, to their toughness, that they were able to get it together and have a fine season, because nine road games can do one of two things: It can either make you better, or it can break you. I'm glad it made our team better, and it's a testament to our guys.
JD: Akeem Johnson really stepped up down the stretch. After last year, how much has his consistency meant to your lineup?
GB: Well, he's done a great job for us and he's a terrific kid. He works very hard, he's a serious kid about what he's doing, and he's getting payback. He's getting payback for all the hard work he put in over the summer, in the offseason, and throughout the year. We couldn't be happier with him.
JD: Stefan Perunicic and Travis Nichols have shot the ball very well from beyond the arc. In the last couple of games, they've been banged up. How have they progressed; will they be ready tomorrow night, and how different is this team without them?
GB: Obviously, whenever you have something good going that can take out two key pieces like Stef and Travis, it affects the team; and it probably did affect us last week, but you have to recover from that. You have to move on. As far as this week, we'll see what happens. They've been getting treatment every day; they've been doing some stuff in practice, but you never know. We have to be prepared to play with or without them. Obviously, we hope it will be with them, and they've done a good job getting ready; you know, and we're just hoping that things fall right.
JD: You mentioned Dre Calloway going down for the year five games in. Brent Jones and Justin Newton have stepped up in his place. Is it more of an offense/defense thing with Brent and Justin, or have they managed to coexist on the court at the same time?
GB: Brent's probably a little bit more of an offensive player than Justin. Justin has a tremendous basketball IQ; he's very smart, he's very tough. He does a lot of things to help you win the game that don't show up in the box score; and he's older, he's three, four years older than Brent, and has a lot of experience. Brent is tremendously talented and has done a great job progressing this year, and is obviously able to do some things as far as getting his own shot and getting the other guys shots that not many guys can do. So, I think it's a good combination; and I think they've helped each other along through it, they've both stepped up in Dre's absence, and they've both done a terrific job. We're very happy to have a senior like Justin, but Brent will be back for the next three years and we expect great things from him.
JD: Scouting Quinnipiac, you've beaten them twice in the regular season. They've been on a roll since then and Tom Moore has his guys playing well. What do they bring to the table?
GB: They bring a lot. First of all, they're very well-coached. Tommy does a great job with them. They guard, they play hard, they're second in the country in rebounding, they do a great job on the glass; and they have two all-league players, so we've got our hands full. You know, playing teams three times, those games mean nothing. Just because we beat them, it doesn't mean anything. We've got to go do it a third time. Thankfully, it's at home, but it's going to be a war. Both (regular season) games were wars, they could have went either way. Fortunately, we were able to come out on the right side of those two games, but that doesn't help us Thursday night. We've got to repeat and do what's necessary to win the game.
JD: You mentioned Ike Azotam averaging a double-double. Jalen Cannon has done just as well on the glass averaging about nine rebounds per game, earning All-Rookie honors in the NEC this season. Do you feel he's playing his best basketball now and is getting better at the right time?
GB: Yeah, he was much more ready than we thought he'd be coming in, but he's done a great job. His rebounding statistics are off the charts for a freshman. He's been terrific, he's been great, and he is getting better; and that's a testament to his work ethic, his makeup. He's going to be terrific. On the other side, Azotam is a great player as well. We've got to do a great job keeping him off the glass. They'll do some things to get him the ball. We have to make him work for everything and try to limit his touches as much as possible.
JD: Were there any parts of the games against Monmouth and Fairleigh Dickinson that concerned you going into tomorrow night?
GB: You always have concerns, and some concerns change depending on the matchup and each game. I think we've just got to regroup a little bit and get back to what we do well. You're not going to play well every game this season. It doesn't happen. Give those teams credit. I thought Monmouth and FDU did a great job in beating us this weekend; but again, we just have to continue to do what we do, try to get better every day, and Thursday's a new day, a new season. I know our guys will play their hearts out. We'll see how it falls.
Join Seth Cantor and Jamaal Womack at 6:50 tomorrow night on sfcathletics.com for game No. 30 of the 110th season of St. Francis College men's basketball as the Terriers host Quinnipiac in the quarterfinals of the 2012 Northeast Conference tournament. You can watch and listen to the broadcast by clicking the following link: